Despite Tom Cruise’s popularity with the American public from incidents such as jumping on Oprah’s couch proclaiming his love for Katie Holmes or his involvement with the Church of Scientology, he has managed to maintain his status as one of the best actors working in the modern industry. And not only is he one of the best dramatic actors, with strong work in movies like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and Michael Mann’s Collateral, but he is also one of the most committed action stars of the past quarter century. With these Mission: Impossible movies (which have been Cruise’s baby since the 1990s) and other various action movies, Cruise has put modern action stars to shame with his bravery to dive into death defying stunts without hesitation.
In Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, the fourth film in the franchise that released in 2011, we saw Cruise climb the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, a skyscraper that stands over 1,600 feet high. Cruise is no stranger to these stunts, always insisting that the filmmakers let him do them himself, regardless of their concern for his safety and well-being. On one hand, that’s scary, and it becomes frightening to think about the level Cruise goes to achieve these insane stunts. On the other hand, it’s admirable, and it’s fresh and awe-inspiring to see a man as old as he is not being afraid to make the best movie he can for the audiences. And while Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation doesn’t have a scene in which Cruise has to climb a skyscraper, its still loaded with exhilarating action pieces that both feel distinct and harken back to some of the best elements of the previous Mission films.
What this franchise has been known for (apart from the iconic theme music and the aforementioned real life stunts from its leading man) is the constant change in direction, with Cruise insisting that every film should be directed by someone different to maintain a certain freshness and a lack of repetitiveness. That plan hasn’t failed us yet. Brian DePalma (director of classics such as Carrie and Scarface) took on the first one, with the result being a kind of exploitation meets big budget, almost right in sync with the tone of the TV series on which the franchise is based. Then John Woo (Broken Arrow and Face/Off) took on the second one, which was dull and did barely anything more than retread similar ground in an uninteresting fashion.
The series really shifted with Mission: Impossible III, which was a non-stop ride filled with exhilarating action, sweeping camera shots, and lens flares. Director J.J. Abrams (who is helming the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens) delivered a pulse pounding thrill ride with III, and has stayed on as a producer for both of the films that followed it, both being produced by his company Bad Robot. And then there was Ghost Protocol, which played as more a political thriller with discussions of nuclear launch codes and the lead characters’ global travels in an attempt to stop nuclear war.
As intended by Cruise and company, Rogue Nation feels unlike any of the previous Mission films, despite taking some of the best elements of all of them. This time around, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is trying to prove the existence of the Syndicate, an international organization trained to do exactly as the IMF, being a kind of anti-IMF, and a highly dangerous threat to the world. As Hunt reunites with his team (whether in person or through telephone calls), the movie’s descent into an espionage thriller sets it apart from the others quite well.
Being helmed by Jack Reacher director Christopher McQuarrie, Rogue Nation is stuffed with exciting and relentlessly enthralling action sequences, all directed superbly by a man who understands how the genre works. The plane sequence that is so heavily promoted in the trailers (which a brilliant marketing tactic, given that scene’s involvement with the entire film) is only a fraction of what you’re getting for your buck with this film, as McQuarrie never fails to deliver a big action piece that he knows the audience is expecting.
One heart pounding scene involves Hunt having to hold his breath for three minutes as he dives underwater and tries to override a security system. Another scene taps into extravagance, as Hunt lurks around backstage an Austrian opera house trying to find a member of the Syndicate. In this spectacular sequence, composer Joe Kraemer (Jack Reacher) halts his suitably vibrant score and allows the vocals of the opera performers to serenade the scene, with the results being eerie and quite beautiful. And if those two sequences aren’t enough, just wait for the motorcycle chase. It’ll have you gripping your seat.
The movie also relishes in the versatility of its setting, as it tracks with Ethan from country to country, sometimes giving us gorgeous shots of the nightlife in London and other times taking us to the western-like setting of Morocco. But despite the constant change in scenery, the film’s tone never becomes cluttered or bloated, which is thanks the script’s obscure spy-like plot and script by McQuarrie. Even though it does become a little over expository at times, his script finds a nice balance between spy dialogue, action scenes, character development, and humor.
In Rogue Nation, the IMF is being threatened by the Syndicate, but the CIA, headed by Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin), doesn’t buy into its existence. The decision by the court to shut down the IMF leads Ethan to the decision to go rogue, keeping his location a secret for half of the film and traveling the eastern hemisphere alone, while still keeping in contact with Benji (Simon Pegg). Still, the movie finds a way to incorporate Hunt’s team in a big way, with each member getting a fair amount of screen time and having crucial roles in the hunt for the Syndicate.
Simon Pegg is just terrific as Benji, being the second-in-command from the minute the film starts. It’s true that this movie focuses on the bromance between Ethan and Ben more than the ones before it, and for that reason, Rogue Nation is the funniest M:I film to date. Pegg and Cruise work brilliantly together, and the former has rapidly become one of my favorite modern screen presences. The film also gives Luther (Ving Rhames) more to do, which is always a plus, and Jeremy Renner shines once again as Brandt.
But one of Rogue Nation’s biggest strengths is Rebecca Ferguson, who, apart from playing Ergenia in Brett Ratner’s Hercules, hasn’t really had much going for. Her character in Rogue Nation is killer, never being lowered to the “action hero’s love interest” status; Instead, her character is an increasingly complex and unpredictable one, and I loved her and her impact on the film.
Rogue Nation is another solid entry into the Mission: Impossible franchise. It isn’t as consistently bombastic as Abrams’ third film and it it certainly has more in common with DePalma’s first entry than any of the others, but that’s a good thing. What Rogue Nation does best is incorporate some of the best elements of the previous movies, and what’s left is a high-octane, smart, sexy, and cool summer blockbuster that demands (and deserves) your money.
2 hours 11 mins
Rated PG-13 for sequences of action and violence, and brief partial nudity
Starring Tom Cruise, Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames
Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie